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U.S. ends use of 2 immigration jails accused of mistreatment

WASHINGTON (AP) — A detention facility in Georgia where women claim they were subjected to unwanted medical procedures and a Massachusetts jail that has drawn complaints of inhumane conditions will no longer be used to detain immigrants, the Biden administration said Thursday.

The Department of Homeland Security said it would terminate contracts with the local government agency that runs the detention center in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, and with the private operator of the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia.

Any detainees who the U.S. believes should remain in custody will be transferred elsewhere, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in announcing the move, which had been sought by immigrant advocates.

Mayorkas said ending the use of the facilities is part of an effort to make “lasting improvements” to a detention system that advocates have long argued detains people for civil immigration offenses for too long and in inappropriately harsh conditions.

It also reflects a broader effort to roll back the anti-immigrant policies that characterized U.S. policy under President Donald Trump.

“Today’s announcements show the Biden administration’s willingness to decisively break from the immigrants’ rights abuses of prior administrations,” said Naureen Shah, senior advocacy and policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, which recently called for the closure of 39 immigration detention centers around the country.

The Massachusetts jail was run under an agreement with the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office. The Georgia facility was run by a private company under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Members of Congress and advocates have called for the closure of the Georgia facility since last year after women held there told of being forced into unnecessary gynecological procedures with dirty equipment that led to serious infections. The conditions were so unsanitary that some women begged to be deported.

In addition, immigrants had broader complaints about overall conditions, alleging that authorities at the detention center failed to take adequate measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Immigrants held at the Massachusetts jail have also complained about a lack of COVID-19 precautions as well as overcrowding and excessive use of force.

“Allow me to state one foundational principle,” Mayorkas said in announcing the measures, “We will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention.”

AP exclusive: More migrant women say they didn’t OK surgery